UK, LibDems and Conservatives: the impossible agreement on European Defence.

After the coalition agreement signed by both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on 11th May, some analysts casted a shadow on the solidity of the new British government. I will now just have a look on their respective programs regarding European Defence. Just to have an idea if this process could develop despite the new government.

Frankly I would say now. Nothing at all will happen, and even to reproduce what de Gaulle said when the United Kingdom bought the Polaris missiles to the USA in the 60’s, the LibDems could still abandon their ideas for some governmental seats.

Firstly, let us read the conservative armed forces manifesto. For instance, the NATO “should remain the cornerstone of (…UK…) defence”. Moreover, they “will therefore examine resources currently spent on bureaucratic and wasteful EU defence initiatives”. Which is rather surprising, is that all those provisions are already included in the Lisbon Treaty. Precisely the article 42 mentions that “the policy of the Union in accordance with this Section shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), under the North Atlantic Treaty and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework”. Indeed, a restrictive reading of the Lisbon Treaty is not so far from the conservative stance. From the very beginning the Treaty has foreseen such cases of a country not willing to take part. Regarding the “wasteful EU defence initiatives”, we can say all right: give back the jobs you have in EU Military Staff (including the boss), the HQ for Atalanta and that’s it, UK will be no more involved in those wasteful initiatives. But I really do not believe so.

However the compatibility with the LibDems is more questionable. In Autumn 2008, the LibDems were more audacious. Then, strongly supporting the ESDP in their conference paper, “Liberal Democrats see the potential for ESDP as encouraging more EU countries to play their part in European and wider international security “.

“Moreover, the ESDP also has the potential to reduce the costs of defence to the UK taxpayer, whilst maintaining our defence capabilities and improving the safety and welfare of our armed forces. This potential arises partly from the prospect of the European Defence Agency being able to reduce the costs of procurement and improve inter-operability”. While on their side the Conservatives think, that “matters of enormous national sensitivity, such as defence procurement are better dealt through inter-governmental bilateral and multi­lateral negotiations, than through supranational institutions” like European Defence Agency.

Finally, what is the synthesis of those diverging views? For the time being: zero, nada, nichts. Their coalition agreement will be completed later on by a final agreement covering defence…

Such different views will not allow the UK to be a driving country as for European Defence refers. Therefore countries like France, which are more active in the issue will have to choose:
-Either the UK, which will remain at least very passive, although its defence policy and organization, with nuclear deterrence and expeditionary warfare knowhow is rather close from French one,
-Or, Germany, which is opposed to nuclear weapons and is in favour of a European Army, which do not match, but quite not the French views.

I will not be very optimistic on the capabilities of those three major countries to find an agreement on the issue.


The limited but realistic ambitions of Spanish presidency of the Union.

Recently I have run my eye over the program of the Spanish presidency. The program is available on different languages on presidency’s website (here).

The Spanish ambition in that field, during those six months is the following one: realize a qualitative jump in promoting more efficient and flexible EU battle groups, consolidating the association between the EU and the NATO and going forward in the civil-military cooperation. That’s it.

Frankly a presidency, modest in its goals but remaining in the field of the possible is preferable to an ambitious one in which nobody will believe. Usually those presidencies end up with a declaration aiming at expressing the historical progress made during the last 6 months.

Anyway, even if a great country like Spain focuses on 1,500 man strong units, I do not assess this to be a great success in June. The EU battle groups suffer many weaknesses, already from their conception.

They are intended to provide the EU a quick military response to contingencies, in order to defuse a situation before it worsens. From a military point of view, what is hidden behind the idea of “quick response”?

Usually, when you need such a unit, it has to be:
-Air transportable,
-Multi-faceted, in order to face and overcome any unexpected worsening of the situation.
-Usable, which is the basis, therefore interoperable, trained and able to operate with the same rules of engagement.
-Sustainable. I mean that a battle group is not a one shot tool. Logistics must follow and if necessary reinforcement or replacement.

Le’s now have a closest look at the planning for the battle groups and let us take two examples. May be my data are not up to date. Any contribution will be welcome. I will not focus on the political side of the usability, but only on the military one. The examples I will take are from the second semester 2010 and first semester 2011. One of the battlegroups designated for 2010/2 is composed with Italian, Romanian and Turkish units. From a purely technical point of view, they are alike any other ad hoc coalition. They do not own the same equipment, their command and information systems have limited compatibility and their logistic organizations are independent. Despite the best will of the soldiers engaged in those battlegroups, it couldn’t be otherwise.

-The procurement of equipment is not European, but national, with national budgets. Due to the legitimate preservation of national industry, special partnership with one or the other country, due to the 40 years cycle needed to change the full equipment of an army, the equipment of this battlegroup cannot be homogeneous. Therefore, the planner has to organize the logistic not for one battlegroup, but for three independent units. Going further in details, the various national regulations usually demand a national certification for any equipment or spare part. That means that even if a weapon or any other system is supposed to be compatible with the incoming spare part, we are not certain of having the right to make use of those same foreign parts or ammunition.

-The command and information systems are usually built up as well on national criteria and because of national sovereignty, the cryptology remains purely national. In NATO operations, NATO will provide all the CIS assets down to headquarters level below the lowest NATO command level, in order they can communicate with the higher echelon. As the EU does not own such agencies able to equip headquarters, one must rely on the assets of one of the framework nations. During the operation in Chad, the EU could apply the same policy than NATO. However, the EU had more than one-year time between the decision to deploy and the effective presence there. In case of quick deployment, I do not know who would guarantee the CIS.

From a more political point of view, some battlegroups are simply not credible. Looking at the Helbroc (Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Cypriot battlegroup, what are their projection and logistic capacities? Those are armies have never deployed abroad in a single national operation. The Nordic battlegroup is for sure the most powerful and best trained. However, who would believe that countries like Sweden or Ireland would commit themselves in robust operations, while they claim neutrality and refuse, like Ireland, any binding alliance?

Therefore I fear that the Spanish presidency ambition as for defence refers will remain an ambition and not a realization, despite all efforts: as long as the issues of interoperability and political intention to go forward will not have been addressed, nothing will really happen.


It’s a long way to an EU operational headquarters

The main reference of this post will be fact sheet published by the Real Instituto Elcano (here), which has published on 23 March 2010 a paper written by Luis Simon, dealing with the EU operational headquarters. The paper can be found in Spanish on the Institute website. I really liked reading it, as it gives a good insight of the whole planning process, even if it does not deal with the issues of parallel planning, which permit to compress significantly the time needed for preparing an operation.

Like many other people more or less involved in European Defence, I think that this operational headquarters will be needed. Therefore, I am really happy seeing Luis Simon supporting the idea. However Mr Simon is realistic, when saying that neither Germany nor the UK ever supported the idea. As for the UK refers, nothing new. The fight against this supposed duplication between the NATO and the EU is an ancient issue, when everybody knows that the real duplication lies within the NATO itself. Germany could be more surprising. I am not. The best expression I could read is “destructive ambiguity” (‘ambigüedad destructive). L. Simon attributes this German ambiguity to their civilian perception of operations, in which they reject a pure military approach.

May be, this explanation is to simple, as the Germans do not reject, and in contrary fully support the NATO purely military headquarters. I would rather think that of course the Germans have expressed at this occasion some of their belief that being a nice and peaceful country would be enough to ban war and solve conflicts. One could think as well that the German intend was to copy in the EU their perception of operations (vernetzte Sicherheit) and therefore take an informal leadership, supported by their civilian experience in conflicts, knowing they would not be able to challenge countries like France or the UK on the expeditionary warfare, on which both are much more experienced than the Bundeswehr. In Afghanistan, when the Germans built up the Provincial Reconstruction Team Kunduz, they applied this integrated civ-mil way of operating while France and the UK were still on more conventional schemes.

Therefore I prefer thinking that they tried to capitalize on their know how (here for more info on PRT Kunduz), instead of being exclusively angelic.

Anyway, L. Simon assesses clearly and rightly that ‘the current planning system and the command and control of CFSP military operations do not fill the minimum quality standards’. Any operation supposed to deploy in a short time need several planning layers working in parallel. The fact is that the current structure in place in Brussels does not permit developing this modus operandi, as something is missing between the strategic (political) and tactical (military technical) levels. The recourse to national operational headquarters is not satisfactory in a EU context, as suspicion of national hidden agendas will always prevail. Furthermore, putting a national operational headquarters at disposal of the EU implies that you declare yourself ready. Who can still imagine that the German operational command in Potsdam could command and control a deployment in Africa, when one see what has happened for Chad, where Germany was politically supporting the operation and militarily refusing it?

Therefore military credibility needs a minimum of assets guaranteeing the possibility to deploy. In that field M. Simon is totally right. Nonetheless, when he proposes the EU situation centre in Brussels to be designated as the ‘preferred HQ’ for CFSP operations, I do not believe it realistic, at least yet, at least as long as every European country thinks that power and influence lie by their capacity to control an EU operation via their national operational headquarters.


France and Germany: the Janus of European Defence

France and Germany belong undoubtedly to the pillars of European Union. Both are founding Member States and are present on almost all the fields they are required to. According to European Defence Agency figures, both countries have spent together more than 77 billions Euros in 2008, which represent more than 1/3 of the total defence expenditure within the EU.

I have decided to join both countries together, as Mr Lellouche, the French State Secretary for European Affairs did some weeks ago in the French Senate on 2nd February 2010. That day he stated that, when ‘France and Germany cannot delineate common positions, as it happened when the Yugoslav federation collapsed, consequences could be unforeseeable’. Taking stocks of such a statement implies to scrutinize those strong links, especially in the field of European Defence, as France and Germany share the ownership of the French-German brigade, of Eurocorps (along with Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg) and even train cadets of their ally.

Indeed, this idea of a sort of Janus came to me when having a look at the visible success of this partnership, while on the other side, on the conceptual side, situation seems being really intricate in various and sometime opposing interests.

On the one side the military technical level, put under pressure by the politics to prove their attachment to the French-German military cooperation stick firmly to the German-French Brigade in which they do not believe at all. For example, while the French Army intended to withdraw its regiments of this brigade from Germany, the final result was the unexpected creation, ex nihilo, of a German reconnaissance battalion, which will join its barracks in the outskirts of Strasbourg in 2010. As well, both armies share the school for the Tiger helicopters. Whereas our countries are eager to save any single Euro, money is not that important when the symbols of French-German cooperation are at stake.

However, shared symbols, even if visible, do not constitute a policy. This is completely true in fields of conventional military operations, industrial cooperation and nuclear deterrence.

Regarding military operations, the last time France and Germany have committed together their common tool, the French-German brigade, was in 2006, during Eurocorps NRF exercise in Cape Verde Islands (here). By the way, I do not include the 2009 operation in Kosovo within the brigade operations: the commander was not FGB commander, but French 1st mechanized brigade commander, BG Bras. To support this view, by going on KFOR Webpage (here) dealing with the change of command you will see on the pictures of the flag pole that French and German flags are not hoisted at the same level! May be the best proof is as well to be found on the French-German brigade website: the text explaining the creation of a German battalion in France has nothing to cope with operational and military efficiency. All the arguments are based on political considerations.

Well, regarding the field of armaments, no comment is needed. I would like somebody to name a major common equipment of both defence forces. Nothing relevant has happened since the moment France and Germany started with the development of the Tiger. When saying nothing relevant, I mean a coherent program, which would significantly improve interoperability between our troops, which are supposed to fight side by side.

However, there is may be something more important than simply interoperability, even if interoperability is a key for operational and tactical efficiency. The most important thing is the perception of our future. While German political parties all aim at the creation of a common European army, France is far from being in this direction. In the French defence white paper, largely inspired by the French current majority, one can read that France will any preserve its autonomy of decision, which is a fundament of national sovereignty. So if Germany wants a European Army, who will decide? German constitution is clear: this is a matter of the national parliament. How can you set up a European army, when from the two major partners, the one claims full autonomy and the second one integration under the control of the parliament?

Then regarding nuclear deterrence, German has expressed itself in favour of a Europe free of weapons of mass destruction, while France says that “deterrence remains an essential fundament of French strategy. How is it possible to make compatible such different policies?

Therefore, this Janus face of France and German common defence policy really seems having become more important than addressing the real issues and asking the parliaments to answer those critical questions if we really want Europe to go forward.